The rest of the first round gets underway on Tuesday with four more matchups. Our writers offer up their thoughts and predictions for those series.
NY Rangers vs Pittsburgh
Allan Katz picks: Rangers in 6
Brian La Rose picks: Rangers in 6
Kevin Leveille picks: Rangers in 7
Naqeeb Shaikh picks: Rangers in 6
(Allan) Two former Habs who washed out in Montreal are still hanging in as Jarred Tinordi and the Rangers play against Nathan Beaulieu and the Penguins. The Rangers have youth while the Penguins have experience in what could be a long series. There are a lot of fingerprints from Montreal on the building of this Rangers team. Going with the Rangers winning 4 to 2.
(Brian) New York very quietly nearly beat Carolina for the top seed in the Metropolitan Division and Jeff Gorton’s old team is quite deep up front and possibly the Vezina-winning goalie between the pipes. Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano have really bolstered their depth up front, giving them two strong scoring lines. The Penguins also have that but they’re without Tristan Jarry to start the series which is a big loss. New York’s back end isn’t the deepest but neither is Pittsburgh’s. My head tells me this could go fewer than six games but the Rangers are still a bit unproven in the playoffs so there could be some early jitters that cost them a game or two. That said, this is still their series.
(Kevin) This will be a fun series to watch. The Penguins have been there so many times before that it’s evident that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be factors. Pittsburgh has scoring depth that has proven to be capable in this moment. Can they do it again? On the other hand, the goaltending matchup favours the Rangers in a big way. The Rangers have a much more complete group on their blue line, and the potential for young stars to make a big difference as Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko will get favourable matchups while Artemi Panarin takes on the Pens’ big guns. Can the Penguins match up physically with Ryan Reaves and Jacob Trouba over seven games? If Pittsburgh’s offence runs hot, they can end this quickly. If their goaltending can’t make a save, the Rangers can end this quickly. The longer the series goes, the more that the physical presence of the Rangers comes into play, but the more the Penguins’ experience becomes a factor. Behind the bench, Mike Sullivan has done it with this group, but Gerard Gallant has done it with an inexperienced group before too. Such a hard one to call. I’ll take the goalie in the 7th game so Rangers in 7.
(Naqeeb) Although the Pens have more playoff experience in their lineup, I think goaltending will be the trump card in this series. Igor Shesterkin’s had a great season and I think his strong play will carry over into the playoffs as well.
Washington vs Florida
Allan Katz picks: Panthers in 6
Brian La Rose picks: Panthers in 5
Kevin Leveille picks: Panthers in 6
Naqeeb Shaikh picks: Panthers in 7
(Allan) Lars Eller and the Caps versus Ben Chiarot and the Panthers. The construction of the Panthers is similar to what top management is trying in Montreal. Picking young bloods over veterans with Florida winning 4 to 2.
(Brian) Contrary to what you’ll read in a moment, I think this matchup played out well for Florida. Yes, their goaltending is still shaky but do you know whose is just as shaky? Washington’s. The Panthers are well-rounded and are capable of playing any style of series. They’re also getting their top defenceman back in Aaron Ekblad. Even if there’s some rust to work off, he’s a big boost for them. The Capitals have more experience which could help but Florida is simply more talented with fewer question marks. That’s a good combination for them.
(Kevin) If the matchups with the Wild Cards really give an advantage the top seeds in the West, I find the exact opposite in the East. The Panthers would have matched up much better against Boston, Pittsburgh, heck even Tampa Bay if you ask me. Instead, they face the Capitals. Washington is far more battle-tested than the Panthers, has the potential to score with the Panthers, and they have no problem going to the trenches and making this a brutally physical series. How will the Panthers respond? They have an untested coach, goaltending that can run hot and cold, and many additions to the roster that need to calm the rest of the group to get them through. Statistically, the Panthers should win this. They do have much better depth up front and can match the Capitals at the top of the roster. They have a much deeper blue line and more skill between the pipes. I think they get through, but only because I believe Ben Chiarot will be an important factor in settling Tom Wilson down early in the series. I know the advanced-stats group will be all over me for that last statement, but too bad, I think it plays an important role in this series. The Panthers just can’t let this series get to seven, because if they do, the Capitals have too much experience that they’ll come through.
(Naqeeb) Washington’s experience makes them a tough challenge for the Panthers, who are finally back in the playoffs. But the Panthers have a better goaltending tandem of Bobrovsky and Knight versus the Caps (Samsonov, Vanecek) to get through any playoff bumps during this series. After proving to be an offensive powerhouse in the regular season, I think the Panthers aim to show that their regular season wasn’t just an aberration and they not only want to get the playoff monkey off their back but intend to prove that they’re a legit playoff contender in the immediate future.
Nashville vs Colorado
Allan Katz picks: Avalanche in 5
Brian La Rose picks: Avalanche in 5
Kevin Leveille picks: Avalanche in 4
Naqeeb Shaikh picks: Avalanche in 5
(Allan) The Quebec Nordiques (aka Colorado Avalanche) are contenders for going all the way. Led by Arturri Lehkonen versus the Predators’ Michael McCarron and Nick Cousins, the Avalanche will win 4 games to one.
(Brian) No Juuse Saros for the Predators to start this series puts them in an even bigger hole. Colorado is the favourite for good reason and the one element Nashville was better in is now no longer the case (at least until Saros returns). I’m a bit leery about Darcy Kuemper who has had an up and down year and that should be enough for the Preds to avoid the sweep but I don’t think much else will go their way this series.
(Kevin) In the words of Calgary coach Darryl Sutter, this might well be a waste of eight days for the Predators. The Avalanche are most certainly Goliath in this series having finished a whopping 22 points ahead of the Preds. However, we’ve heard this song before when it comes to the Avalanche. They were supposed to be unstoppable last year too, weren’t they? Cale Makar will be well-matched against Roman Josi, but that may be where the comparatives end. The rest of the blue line is far more complete in Colorado with far more scoring up front to accompany the blue line depth. Of course, this will require Kadri staying in the lineup for the duration of the series. Where the series should have been a bit more even was in the crease, but now Saros is struggling to get back on the ice, promising a short series and a sweep by the Avalanche.
(Naqeeb) The Avalanche are just too deep and experienced for the Preds. Plus, since they’re a Cup-favourite, it’s key for them to stay healthy and finish up the series quickly.
Dallas vs Calgary
Allan Katz picks: Flames in 6
Brian La Rose picks: Flames in 5
Kevin Leveille picks: Flames in 5
Naqeeb Shaikh picks: Flames in 5
(Allan) Two Hab favorites face off against each other as Tyler Toffoli leads the Flames against Alexander Radulov and the Dallas Stars. The Flames are real contenders and will easily win 4 to 2 and are most likely the Canadian team to go the farthest, possibly all the way, in these playoffs.
(Brian) Dallas has a good enough team on paper to give Calgary a good run. However, they’re not as good on the ice as they are on paper. The Flames hold the edge pretty much everywhere and the Stars allowed more goals than they scored this season. That doesn’t bode well for a long and successful playoff run so Calgary shouldn’t have too much of an issue with this series.
(Kevin) The way the teams are built, I feel like Nashville might have given Calgary more of a challenge and the Stars might have been tougher for the Flames. As it stands, the style of play here only serves to highlight the skills gap between the two teams. Much like the Flames, the Stars rely heavily on their top line. Unlike the Flames, the lines below that top line aren’t very good at keeping the opposition off the scoresheet. Sure, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Radulov have been there before, but they really weren’t there all season long, so I’ll take my chances with Andrew Mangiapane, Toffoli, Mikael Backlund, and Calle Jarnkrok. Both blue lines feature an interesting mix of size, physicality, and skill, but again, the Flames have been able to put it all together this year whereas the Stars have struggled to play as a unit, entering the playoffs as the only team with a negative goal differential. I’ll give the Stars a bit more credit and give them a game, but it’s a quick Calgary in five here.
(Naqeeb) Calgary’s depth is as strong as their team game and will wear the Stars down and overwhelm them.